A Short History of the Captains of the Yankees - UPDATED!
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
by Paul Semendinger
The following is an excerpt from my award-winning book on the Yankees, The Least Among Them.
UPDATE - At the end of the article...
In their history, the Yankees have had fifteen different players earn the title as “Captain.” This has largely been a ceremonial title, often conferred upon the most notable star on a team.
The most recent Yankees captain was Derek Jeter who held this title as a player longer than any other Yankee. Derek Jeter was named captain in 2003 and he held this title for the rest of career until he retired following the 2014 baseball season.
The Yankees player with the shortest tenure as captain was their greatest player, Babe Ruth. The Babe was the Yankees captain for a mere five days in 1922. Not long after being named team captain, Babe Ruth had an altercation with an umpire after being called out running the bases. Ruth threw dirt into the umpire’s face and was then ejected from the game. Following this, as he left the field, the Babe charged into the stands to attack a fan who had been calling him names. For these actions, Babe Ruth was suspended by the American League and he also lost his title as Yankees captain.
Up until 1922, the Highlanders/Yankees had a captain in every season. Their first captain was Clark Griffith an eventual member of the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. Griffith was one of the founding members of the American League in 1901 and had helped pitch the Chicago White Sox to the league’s first pennant before coming to New York. Kid Elberfeld, a shortstop, was the next Highlanders captain. In his era, Elberfeld was considered one of the game’s greatest shortstops. Following Elberfeld, future Hall-of-Famer “Wee” Willie Keeler served as the Yankees captain. Known as one of baseball’s best batters, Keeler was a star before playing for the Highlanders. Following Keeler as captain was one of the most controversial baseball players of all time, Hal Chase, a first baseman. Chase is considered one the greatest defensive first baseman of all-time. He was also the first true homegrown Highlanders star. Chase was involved in numerous allegations of gambling and throwing games. He was traded to the White Sox during the 1913 season. In 1913, the captain of the team (now known as the Yankees) was the player/manager Frank Chance who had secured his reputation as the first baseman on the Chicago Cubs. Chance didn’t last long with the Yankees as a player or manager. By 1914 his playing and managerial careers with New York were over. Roger Peckinpaugh, a shortstop, who had briefly replaced Frank Chance as manager, was named captain. Peckinpaugh was known for his calm demeanor and his outstanding defensive play. Toward the end of his career, he helped lead the 1925 Washington Senators to their only World Championship earning the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.
In total, four Yankees shortstops held this honor including Jeter, Peckinpaugh, Kid Elberfeld, and the captain who replaced Babe Ruth, Everett Scott who was the Yankees captain from 1922 until 1925. Scott was baseball’s first “Iron Man.” He played in 1,307 consecutive games setting the Major League record for consecutive games played that would eventually be broken by the man who would one day be the next Yankees captain, Lou Gehrig. The last game that Everett Scott played as a starter was May 20, 1925. Two days later, on June 1, Lou Gehrig began his amazing streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. No one at the time, of course, knew that the legacies of these two players would intersect in such a way.
Lou Gehrig, who it can be argued was the second greatest Yankee player of all time (after only Babe Ruth) was named their captain in 1935. Gehrig’s consecutive games streak wasn’t broken until 1995 when it was usurped by Cal Ripken, Jr. Known as “The Pride of the Yankees,” Gehrig was a hardworking and dignified player. Gehrig’s career, and life were cut short by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which is today is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
In deference to his life and legacy, upon Gehrig’s retirement no Yankee held the title as captain until 1976. In 1976, the Yankees moved into a refurbished Yankee Stadium. They also took their place atop the American League standings again that year. The man who was considered the heart of that teams was their catcher Thurman Munson. He was named Yankees captain in 1976 the same year that he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Like Gehrig, Munson’s career ended tragically. Munson died in a plane crash on August 2, 1979.
In 1982, Graig Nettles, a standout third baseman, was named captain of the Yankees. Nettles did not remain captain for long, though. Just before the 1984 season, Nettles was traded to the San Diego Padres. For the 1986 through 1988 seasons, the Yankees employed co-captains for the only time in their history. The two honorees were longtime stars Willie Randolph, a second baseman, and Ron Guidry, a starting pitcher. Both Randolph and Guidry were soft spoken all-star players. The 1988 season was the last in New York for both players.
Don Mattingly was the Yankees captain from 1991 through the end of his career in 1995. In the 1980s, Don Mattingly was considered one of baseball’s greatest players. Unfortunately, injuries took away his production and robbed him of a Hall-of-Fame career.
(Of note, yesterday, December 21, 2022, Aron Judge was named the 16th captain in Yankees history.)
Interestingly, in their great history, there were very few times when the Yankees won a World Series while employing a captain. After appointing Lou Gehrig the Yankees captain in 1935, the team won the World Series in 1936, 1937, and 1938. The Yankees won two World Series, 1977 and 1978, with Thurman Munson as their captain. The only other Yankees team with a captain to win a World Series was Derek Jeter’s 2009 squad. In told, only six of the Yankees 27 World Championships came while they had a team captain
UPDATE (12/22/22) -
On Twitter, the YES Network posted the following graphic listing Rollie Zeider as a captain of the Yankees. I just checked multiple sites and have not come across his name anywhere (see below):
Zeider came to the Yankees in a very unpopular trade for Hal Chase. He didn't perform well as a Yankee. He had bunions. The trade was ridiculed in the press at the time. The trade was one reason Frank Chance did not last long as Yankees manager. For this information, I referenced the following texts:
Pinstripe Empire - by Marty Appel
A Yankee Century - by Harvey Frommer
The New York Yankee Encyclopedia - by Harvey Frommer
Yankees Century - by Glenn Stout
I'll continue my research to find a source prior to yesterday (12/21/22) that lists Zeider as a Yankees captain.
UPDATE 12:45 p.m.
Using newspapers.com and searching the name Rollie Zeider in every artcle from 1913, I found two articles, shaort references, one from the Baltimore Sun (6/3/1913), the other from the Los Angeles Express (6/2/1913) that state that Zeider WOULD be named captain.
But I found nothing that ever says he was named captain.
The source for both reports was the Chicago White Sox who MAY HAVE been overstating Zieder's value, because, as it tuns out, he missed significant time with a bunion. Again, there was no article that stated that he was ever named a Yankees captain.
These newspaper reports are copied below.
SSTN has been active on Twitter today copying baseball writers, SABR, the New York Post (who ran an article today citing Zeider as a captain), the Yankees, the Yankees PR Department, and SABR to try to see if other information can be found. (A copy of one of the tweets is also below.)
LOS ANGELES EXPRESS (June 2, 1913)
BALTIMORE SUN (June 3, 1913)
SSTN TWEET FROM TODAY: